Alzheimer’s disease slowly progresses until you can no longer communicate with the person afflicted with the disease. One of the first signs of the disease progression is the inability to find the right words for objects. The person with Alzheimer’s disease might point to an object like a toothbrush, and not be able to say the exact word.. Then, over time, language becomes increasingly vague. The person cannot give specific details because their store of language has been affected by the disease. Alzheimer’s disease affects various parts of the brain.
The person with Alzheimer’s has a hard time learning new information because the disease affects the temporal lobes responsible for helping us to learn new things. However, old memories are represented in various parts of the brain, so it is not until the disease has advanced that those memories are lost. So, here are some Alzheimer’s tips and insights in helping a caregiver more easily care for someone with the disease.
When communicating with someone with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to remember that they cannot control what is happening to them, and they are unable to change their behavior. We, as the care providers, need to adapt and learn effective ways to relate to the person with Alzheimer’s. The most important moment for the person with Alzheimer’s is the present. The caregiver’s goal should be to try and make the person living with Alzheimer’s feel relaxed in the present moment.
It is important to remember that someone with Alzheimer’s can’t always express their feelings accurately and; therefore, you shouldn’t take what they may say personally. It is important that we don’t get upset or try to correct someone with Alzheimer’s disease. For example, if the person is gesturing for you to pass the salad but says pass the bread–don’t try and correct them–Just hand them what they are gesturing for and carry on.
People with Alzheimer’s may repeat the same question over and over—the person can’t remember what they just asked—and; therefore, their concern hasn’t gone away. It is the caregiver’s job to try and ease the worry. Don’t try and make the question go away—make it your goal to make the worry go away. If you answered the question in a way that seemed to put the person at ease, then do it the same way next time. It is important to remember that certain situations will trigger repetitive questions. It’s not poor technique by the caregiver; it is the nature of the disease.
Aggressive behavior is a form of communication—kicking, hitting or biting, are ways to say, “stop.” You should listen and stop doing what is causing the aggressive behavior. Of course, we can try again later doing to achieve the goal, like get the person to take a bath.
As the disease progresses, verbal explanations become increasingly ineffective. The most effective way to communicate with the care recipient is through the use of body language or gestures. Keeping this in mind will make accomplishing tasks easier. Try and make eye contact, and gently guide them where you want them to go. Sometimes distraction helps—like singing.
Once you have some eye contact, you can use body language to communicate. The person with Alzheimer’s recognizes the tone of voice and body posture to the end of the disease progression. A calm voice and leaning forward, will be better received than speaking with a harsh tone and crossed arms. To maximize the chance the care recipient will understand you, you should use simple phrases, speak in a warm tone, and use body gestures to communicate.
Try to avoid negative words that create resistance such as, no, don’t and can’t. “Let’s eat later,” is more positive than, “don’t eat now”. When it is time for bed, try leading with statements like, “I am getting sleepy,” and then follow with gestures. Never baby talk or talk to the person as if they are a child, as this is not effective. Treat the person with respect and speak with them as you would to an older adult.
Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s may ask where their children are, or may ask where a person is who has died. You can respond by saying “the children are sleeping” or “Mom went out to run an errand.” Providing these types of responses is the most humane way to handle these situations. It is ok to adapt to your care recipients reality, and it is ok to go wherever that might be.
Caring for someone living with Alzheimer’s comes with many challenges. The goal of the caregiver should be to make the person you are caring for feel comfortable and safe.
Medifecta Healthcare Training: Caring for someone with Early to Mid- Stage Alzheimer’s Disease or Related Dementia